Cadiz and Jerez: Flamenco Hunting

Cadiz – view from above
After weekend after weekend of studying Spanish and seeing the sights in Madrid, I decided it was time for a little bit of adventure. So, I walked down to the train station and bought a ticket to Cadiz, Andalusia, booked a hostel and waited for the weekend to arrive. Friday I had my backpack strapped on and I arrived 15 minutes early to the train station. And, to start off the grand adventure I show up at the wrong train station in Madrid (in my defense the day I bought the ticket I bought train tickets to two other places, while I was wrapped up in telling the booking agent the correct dates and times in my best Spanish she was reminding me of which trains left from which of the two main stations in Madrid). When I didn’t see my train in the “salidas” (departures) screen, my heart dropped down into my stomach – “great…” After verifying my fears at the information desk I accepted my fate and walked over to stand in the ginormous line to change my ticket (thankfully there was another train I could take in 2-1/2 hours). I was relatively calm (maybe after a few backpacking adventures you realize that everything has a strange way of working out…that there is “always another train” and that the times when things don’t go exactly as planned is when the magic happens, when stories are made). However, the elderly security guard and the lady standing behind me seemed to be a lot more worried about me catching my train. “I have 2-1/2 hours to get over there” I thought, but maybe they knew something I didn’t – could the line really take that long? Long story short, for being a young, pathetic American with her backpack in the middle of Madrid or just by the shear kindness of strangers (I like to think it was the latter), the security guard talked to a friend at the information desk who changed my ticket while the lady held my place in line. I was out in 10 minutes, new ticket in hand and bound for the correct train station.
outdoor bathroom on the terrace
I arrived in Cadiz around 11:00pm and checked into my hostel, “Casa Caracol” (translation “Snail House”). The entire hostel was built from the ground up about 10 years ago and everything about it is handmade including the bunk beds and furniture. On their website they boast, “Offering much more than just a bed, we specialize in atmosphere and good vibes – yoga courses, salsa classes, Indian cooking lessons, BBQs, bike rentals and ‘pimped up hot breakfasts.’ Casa Caracol is a friendly and relaxed little backpacker’s haven in the heart of old Cadiz. The caracol- meaning snail in Spanish- reflects the slow pace of things here, hence travelers tend to slow down and sense a different rhythm. We have created a beautiful rooftop garden, full of plants and hammocks, where you can snooze through the siesta or sleep the night under the stars as well as take a shower in the tropical outdoor bathroom!” Oh, and the outdoor bathroom is no joke! (even though it was way too cold to try it out). I came down for the free community breakfast and I chatted it up with some of the other backpackers over pancakes and orange juice. I walked to the beach with some American girls who were spending a semester abroad in Seville and then we all headed back to the center of town because there was a free tour with one of my favorite tour companies, “Pancho Tours,” starting at 1pm. At the meeting point I saw a group of other young people like us and they turned out to also be waiting for the tour to start. We got to talking and four of the girls were American and working their second year as “auxiliaries de conversacion” (a program sponsored by the Spanish government to bring native English speakers from the states and Canada to work in public schools as English teachers). Some of them had Spanish boyfriends there which made for a very interesting mix of people. In the end, the tour guide never showed up (very unusual for Pancho Tours might I add). The college girls bailed and went back to the beach and I stuck with my new group of friends. We walked around the city for hours chatting and soaking up the sun. We stopped and had lunch in one of the many plazas and afterwards stopped for a “café con leche” and some homemade carrot cake.
my new-found American/Spanish friends in Cadiz
The time had gotten away from me and I hurried back over to the hostel to meet my new Dutch friend, Sara (we had met at breakfast) who was working for two weeks in the hostel in exchange for room and board. She was 28 and said that a month ago she found herself a bit bored and restless in Amsterdam. She decided to leave her job and work as a volunteer throughout Europe – mostly in hostels, through the website www.workaway.org. Sara also explained to me that 2 years ago she decided to fulfill a dream of hers and backpack through South East Asia for 6 months – Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. She assured that she had become deathly ill from food poisoning only once during the 6 months (which is apparently pretty good). I could barely believe the stories that she told me. She makes my 8 days of walking the Camino de Santiago sound pretty pathetic. So anyways, we were both dead-set on seeing some show-stopping flamenco and headed north to the small town Jerez de La Frontera, which was celebrating their annual flamenco festival. When we arrived we hit the streets expecting to find booths, shows and performers littering las callejuelas (little streets), but we were thoroughly disappointed. We couldn’t find anything and whenever I stopped to ask some local would say, “Oh yeah, I think they’re having a show tonight in ‘insert name of taberna’….just follow this street down, take the second left, walk until you see the church then take a right on the 2nd or 3rd street…I forgot the name of it, but just ask around there, they should know.” We finally turned to my handy-dandy “Lonely Planet Andalusia” guide and went to the most highly rated place in town. We showed up right when it is scheduled to open thinking “ok, we’re finally going to see a show.” And, what do you know it was CLOSED. How does it make any sense that the most popular, highly rated flamenco taberna in town is CLOSED, on a Saturday night, during flamenco week! I swear, only in Jerez does this make any sense.
Feeling dejected we went to a place that was being advertised on a flyer. We were fearful that it was going to be one of those cheesy tourist shows but luckily it ended up being exceedingly authentic. The last show of the night started at midnight and of course I was starting to fade (Dominique is no night owl). We waited and waited…15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes. I guess the taberna has to pay the flamenco group a flat price no matter what, so they were waiting for more people to show up. Gosh, how hard is it for a girl to just see some flamenco! The show finally started at 12:45am and yes, in the end we forgot about all the agony and torture we had just endured. Watching live flamenco really moves your soul – the minute they start singing chills roll over your body and you feel this incredible warming sensation, like they lit a fire in your soul. You feel their passion, their love and their bitterness with every gesture, every sound and every facial expression. It is truly moving. From the words of one of the five ladies from New York that were sitting in front of us (they were there taking flamenco classes through the festival), “I feel like I just lost my virginity…again” she whispers to her friend as she fans herself after the first song.
After our exhausting search for flamenco and getting home at 3am the night before I decided I needed a moment of tranquility. I stopped at the Arab Hammam and had a soak in their warm baths which also included a 15 min massage. Let’s remember that much of Spain, especially Andalusia, was conquered and ruled by Arabs for 800 years and is thus enlaced with remnants of Arab culture. Well, it was nothing like the true Hammam treatment that I had in Istanbul but a wonderful, relaxing experience all the same (-:

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